Tony Stewart, the controversial race car driver known for his aggressive style and fiery temper, will not face criminal charges in Kevin Ward Jr.’s death, a grand jury in New York has decided.
Disrtict Attorney Michael Tantillo in Ontario County, N.Y., announced there was no basis for criminal charges.
Stewart was racing Aug. 9 in the Empire Super Sprints Series at a half-mile dirt oval in Canandaigua, N.Y., on the night Ward was killed.
Ward and Stewart were battling for position midway through the feature race, and Ward hit the outside wall and spun with a flat tire.
Upset with Stewart, Ward scrambled out of his car and approached his car under caution while gesturing angrily. After being struck, he was dragged and then thrown from beneath the wheel, and his lifeless body landed a few dozen feet down the track.
According to the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office, Ward was declared dead 45 minutes later after arriving at Thompson Hospital.
Tantillo said toxicology reports revealed Ward was under the influence of marijuana at a high enough level to impair judgment.
Tantillo said there were two charges submitted for consideration by the grand jury against Stewart: manslaugher in the second degree and criminally negligent homicide. He said neither received the necessary 12 votes from the grand jury to charge Stewart. The grand jury heard the evidence and deliberated “over the better part of two days,” Tantillo said.
Tantillo said approximately two dozen witnesses testified. Two videos, photos and “other documentary evidence” also were reviewed.
Stewart still could face a civil suit from Ward’s family.
Stewart, 43, has been a star in U.S. racing for nearly two decades. After becoming only the second driver to win the USAC triple crown (three prestigious open-wheel championships in the same season), he made his Indianapolis 500 debut in 1996 and led the first 31 laps before a mechanical failure. He won the Indy Racing League title the next season while he began racing part time in stock cars.
He made the full-time move to NASCAR’s premier series in 1999 and was named rookie of the year with three victories (becoming the first rookie to win in 12 years).
He led the circuit in victories in 2000 (six) and ’11 (five) and captured his first championship in 2002. That season also was among the most tumultuous of his career. Stewart nearly lost his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing for striking a photographer after a 12th-place finish at the Brickyard 400.